Steven DeMay, Advisor/Co-founder
I grew up in Escanaba, Michigan, and graduated from Michigan State University with degrees in Biology and Chemistry. After teaching Science in Michigan at Kingsley High School for three years, I found my way to Appleton and settled in at Wilson Middle School where I met my future VNS colleagues. I have since completed a Master’s degree in Educational Leadership and most recently earned licenses in Administration and Director of Instruction. As one of the founders of Valley New School, I have been involved in this project since 2000. It amazes me how much VNS has changed my life and opened my eyes to what true learning can be. I am most proud of how our culture of learning continues to evolve at Valley New School, and I am thankful to work with such dedicated, visionary people.
My family has been incredibly supportive throughout the development of Valley New School. Many sacrifices were required of them during those formative years. Personally, I enjoy traveling and spending time with my family (my wife, Joanne, and three children, Max, Gus, and Ella). I also like to read, cook, and eat.
Helen Holmes, Advisor
M.S. Professional Counseling, University of Wisconsin Oshkosh
B.A. in English Language and Lit, Texas Tech University
I have been an Advisor at Valley New School since 2009 after having taught in the traditional classroom for ten years. In the traditional setting, I sought non-traditional methods that would allow students greater ownership of their learning and placed great emphasis on process. That is why it is exhilarating to work in a purely project-based environment. PBL offers a transformative opportunity with every project because the topics are student-designed, require a sustained effort and hone skills that are relevant to new learning. Though individual projects and personalized learning is highly challenging for students, it is evident at the culmination that students have a greater sense of satisfaction, confidence, and skill. Teacher-led schools require great energy, innovation, and cohesiveness among colleagues, and the rewards are true purpose, impact, and relationships that make a difference —what we all dreamed of when we became teachers!
Nicole Luedtke, Advisor/Co-founder
B.S. in Education, Minor in English, Northern Illinois University
Ms. Luedtke co-founded Valley New School, an innovative, project-based, student, centered, technology-rich charter school that remains a lab and model. Besides advising students, she practices in PLP’s, Advisory, PBL, and community/parent relations. She is a consultant, presenter, and coach for professionals. Previously Nicole served in public and private schools. Her team opened a place-based school in Boulder, CO, where she specialized in school design. Ms. Luedtke’s main interests are family nature, and wellness.
Jennifer Plamann, Advisor/Co-founder
M.Ed. in Interdisciplinary Arts in Education, Lesley University
B.A. in Studio Art, Lawrence University
While teaching Art and directing/choreographing Theater at both the elementary and secondary levels, Jennifer Plamann saw, in a limited sense, that learning through long-term projects had the potential to raise student (and staff) engagement and achievement. This observation led her to help create and implement the ultimate project: Valley New School. After celebrating its 10th anniversary last year, VNS continues to innovate and evolve. Plamann feels privileged to work in a community where every individual is empowered to become a purposeful adult. Outside of VNS, she sings with her church choir, performs in community theater productions, and has presented at several conferences and PBL summer institutes.
David Debbink, Advisor Emeritus
After moving eight times in my first 17 years, 1967 found me in Appleton as a freshman at Lawrence University. When I graduated with a degree in Psychology and Math, and contrary to my declared plans of escaping ASAP, I stayed in the Valley and discovered it to be a wonderful place to live and raise a family. I have three children and two stepchildren, all grown, married, and living on their own. My wife, Marcia, and I spend much of our free time traveling to Ann Arbor, Denver, and Tucson to visit our children and our one grandson. When not on the road, we enjoy gardening, reading, and spending time with friends. In addition, I collect and maintain vintage Corvair automobiles, spending most of the summer in one of my two convertibles.
I have taught (mostly high school and middle school math) in Appleton for 38 years. I pioneered team-teaching in the seventies and experimented with project-based education as early as 1990 at Wilson Middle School. The development and implementation of Valley New School has been the highlight of my career, both personally and professionally. I work with a fantastic and supportive group of people who share the joy of helping and watching young adults grow and change daily. I love coming to VNS everyday . . . what more do I need to say!?!
Christine Wegner, Secretary